Widely sold as a weight-management product, hoodia gordoonii is a rare succulent plant found in the South African desert, that, it is claimed, fires satiety-stimulators in the brain when ingested, leaving people with the sensation of fullness. But safety concerns and fake hoodia supplements flooding the market over the years have tarnished the plant’s image.
Phytopharm alone holds an exclusive patent from the South African government in 1995 to isolate, extract and synthesise the steroidal glycoside molecule P57 that is widely believed to be solely responsible for the appetite-suppressant effects of hoodia gordonii. The future looked bright in December 2004, when Phytopharm announced a €20m joint development partnership with Unilever to develop a P57-based SlimFast shake.
Life after Unilever
But in November 2008 Unilever terminated the partnership citing “safety and efficacy” concerns over the product – which was rumoured to cause digestive problems in a shake formulation because it was metabolised too quickly. Since then Phytopharm has been seeking a new investment partner to fund further product development.
Speaking to NutraIngredients.com, Phytopharm director Sandy Morrison insisted that P57 still has a bright future. “We have several detailed discussions ongoing with major players but nothing concluded as yet – we are in active investigations with interested parties.”
The company’s 2009 annual report had earlier stated that discussions were ongoing with major branded companies based in Europe and South Africa.
Asked if Unilever’s decision to break with Phytopharm had been damaging to the hoodia brand, Morrison said:“Yes, hugely, because it implied a general safety problem [with P57] that didn’t exist – which showed that they [Unilever] completely misunderstood our product.”
In the light of ongoing discussions with potential partners, he insisted that solid formulations now held out the best prospects for P57: “Early work by Phytopharm and Pfizer concentrated on applications relating to solid products. We believe, and our data suggests, that solid products – things like cereal bars, chew bites, dry muesli bars are the way forward.”
Asked how long it would be before someone made a mainstream success out of a hoodia-based product Morrison added: “It’s not a question I can easily answer – it depends upon the depth of pockets of companies as regards developing products and funding the necessary clinical trials.”
Phytopharm’s website states that scientific articles relating to clinical trials conducted with Unilever will be published in Q3 of 2010 under the terms of a mutual termination agreement.
Asked if material was due to appear on schedule Morrison said:“We’re working closely with Unilever to publish a substantial body of information by the end of this year. It’s really quite an extensive list of articles with many guest reviewers.”
This comes after a statement in Phytopharm’s 2009 annual report that said one clinical trial undertaken with Unilever relating to the use of hoodia in a drink-based product would be published in Q1 of 2010.